Τετάρτη 25 Ιουλίου 2018

Saint Anna, the Mother of Theotokos, and Saint Olympias the Deaconess (July 25)

The Dormition of St. Anna, and the Skete of St. Anna (the larger), Mount Athos 

The Dormition of St. Anna - Commemorated on July 25 (icon courtesy of here used with permission)

Full of Grace and Truth
"Saint Anna was the daughter of the priest Matthan and his wife Mary. She was of the tribe of Levi and the lineage of Aaron. According to Tradition, she died peacefully in Jerusalem at age 79, before the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos.

[The Theotokos had been orphaned of both her parents already when she was eleven years of age, when she was living in the Temple (see Sept. 8 and Nov. 21). Saint Anna is invoked for conceiving children, and for help in difficult childbirth. (here)]

During the reign of St Justinian the Emperor (527-565), a church was built in her honor at Deutera. Emperor Justinian II (685-695; 705-711) restored her church, since St Anna had appeared to his pregnant wife. It was at this time that her body and maphorion (veil) were transferred to Constantinople.
St Anna is also commemorated on September 9." (taken from here)
 Icon of the Dormition of St. Anna (taken from here)
"St. Anne's Skete (or, less commonly, The Major Skete of St. Anne's) is one of four sketes attached to the Great Lavra of Mount Athos. It is located near the cape of Mt Athos, near Little St. Anne's Skete. St Anne's Skete has the distinction of being the largest and oldest skete of Mt Athos and was founded to preserve the left foot of St Anne, the Mother of the Theotokos.

There are 51 brotherhood houses at St Anne's Skete, inhabited by 85 monks. The houses each have different handicrafts - some fishing, some gardening, others iconography, wood carving, miniature art or incense. The main church was built and frescoed in 1754, when it was dedicated to St Anne, and it holds the relics of several saintly martyrs of the Church." (taken from here).
Picture of St. Anna's Skete, Mount Athos (taken from here)
The following is a quote from Constantine Cavarnos, about an experience visiting the Skete of St. Anna for the vigil service:
"In The Holy Mountain I speak particularly about my attending the all-night vigil service in honor of Saint Anna, the mother of the Theotokos on August 6 (July 24 O.S.) the eve of the annual feast. There I say:

"I went by motorboat to the arsanas (landing place) of the Skete of Saint Anna, on the southern side of the Athos peninsula, in order to go up to the Skete and attend the feast in commemoration of the Dormition of Saint Anna, to whom this settlement of hermits is dedicated. This Skete is built on an abrupt slope a good distance from the sea. To reach its main church (known as the kyriakon, because the monks of the settlement gather in it on Sundays (Kyriake) for corporate worship), I had to walk uphill a for about half an hour.

Metropolitan Emmanuel of Ptolemais (Egypt) & bishop Athanasios of Kisumu (Kenya) in the holy procession (litany) of the feast day of st Anna 2017 in the city of Peristeri (meaning "pigeon/dove" in Greek), Attica, Greece. Photo from here.

"The all-night vigil service, which constituted the heart of the celebration, was one of the most memorable experiences I have had on the Holy Mountain. It began at 8 o'clock in the evening of the feast and continued until 8:30 in the morning, when the Divine Liturgy, which followed the great vespers and matins, ended. This service had a spiritual magnificence that moved one profoundly, evoking contrition and a strong feeling of the presence of God. The chanting was done by two choirs, each consisting of three monks, all of them having beautiful voices and well-trained in the execution of Byzantine music. They stood in stalls along the east wall of the nave that is in line with the iconostasis, and faced west towards the congregation. At the beginning of the service the church was dark, illumination being provided only by the small sacred oil-lamps in front of the icons of the iconostasis. 

When the right choir began to chant Psalm 140 (Septuagint): 'Lord, I have cried unto Thee; hear me: attend to the voice of my supplication ...' one of the monks lit the candles of the great chandelier (under the dome) known as the 'corona,' those of the three other chandeliers in the nave, and those before the icons of the iconostasis, in front of the Beautiful Gate, and elsewhere. Thus the intensity of the illumination gradually increased until the whole nave became well illuminated. It was a warm, pulsating light, unlike the lifeless light provided by electricity. The sacred figures depicted on the panels and walls now became visible, increasing the feeling of holiness and contact with the divine. This feeling was further strengthened by the frequent censing with the famed Athonite frankincense.

"When the priest said in a loud intoned voice: 'With fear of God, with faith and with love draw near,' many of the monks and lay guests moved forward to the Beautiful Gate to partake of Divine Communion.

"After the Liturgy, food was offered in the refectory to all who had attended the services.
"When the meal was over, one of the monks of the Skete, a retired Metropolitan named Anthimos, delivered a moving speech, in which he related the celebration to the goals of monasticism. The chief purpose of this event, he asserted, is to lift us to God and His saints, and to arouse our zeal to imitate Saints Anna and Joachim, to strive to acquire their virtues, to rid ourselves of 'passions' (negative emotions) and evil thoughts, to cleanse our soul of everything impure, so that we might attain happiness in the other, endless life, and so far as possible in the present life also." (taken from here)
 Icon of St. Anna, holding the Most-Holy Theotokos, from the Skete of St. Anna, Mount Athos (taken from here)

Picture of the holy, incorrupt foot of St. Anna, treasured in the Skete of St. Anna, Mount Athos, working many miracles (particularly with women who have trouble conceiving or during pregnancy)
(taken from here)
Another icon of the Dormition of St. Anna (taken from here)
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone

O Godly-minded Anna, thou didst give birth unto God's pure Mother who conceived Him Who is our Life. Wherefore, thou hast now passed with joy to thy heavenly rest, wherein is the abode of them that rejoice in glory; and thou askest forgiveness of sins for them that honour thee with love, O ever-blessed one.

Kontakion in the Second Tone

We celebrate now the mem'ry of Christ's ancestors, while asking their help with faith, that we may all be saved from all manner of tribulation as we fervently cry aloud: Be thou with us, O Lord our God, Whose pleasure it was to glorify them both. (taken from here)

Saint Olympias the Deaconess was the daughter of the senator Anicius Secundus, and by her mother she was the granddaughter of the noted eparch Eulalios (he is mentioned in the life of Saint Nicholas). Before her marriage to Anicius Secundus, Olympias’s mother had been married to the Armenian emperor Arsak and became widowed. When Saint Olympias was still very young, her parents betrothed her to a nobleman. The marriage was supposed to take place when Saint Olympias reached the age of maturity. The bridegroom soon died, however, and Saint Olympias did not wish to enter into another marriage, preferring a life of virginity.
After the death of her parents she became the heir to great wealth, which she began to distribute to all the needy: the poor, the orphaned and the widowed. She also gave generously to the churches, monasteries, hospices and shelters for the downtrodden and the homeless.

Holy Patriarch Nectarius (381-397) appointed Saint Olympias as a deaconess. The saint fulfilled her service honorably and without reproach.
Saint Olympias provided great assistance to hierarchs coming to Constantinople: Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, Onesimus of Pontum, Gregory the Theologian, Saint Basil the Great’s brother Peter of Sebaste, Epiphanius of Cyprus, and she attended to them all with great love. She did not regard her wealth as her own but rather God’s, and she distributed not only to good people, but also to their enemies.
Saint John Chrysostom (November 13) had high regard for Saint Olympias, and he showed her good will and spiritual love. When this holy hierarch was unjustly banished, Saint Olympias and the other deaconesses were deeply upset. Leaving the church for the last time, Saint John Chrysostom called out to Saint Olympias and the other deaconesses Pentadia, Proklia and Salbina. He said that the matters incited against him would come to an end, but scarcely more would they see him. He asked them not to abandon the Church, but to continue serving it under his successor. The holy women, shedding tears, fell down before the saint.

Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria (385-412), had repeatedly benefited from the generosity of Saint Olympias, but turned against her for her devotion to Saint John Chrysostom. She had also taken in and fed monks, arriving in Constantinople, whom Patriarch Theophilus had banished from the Egyptian desert. He levelled unrighteous accusations against her and attempted to cast doubt on her holy life.
After the banishment of Saint John Chrysostom, someone set fire to a large church, and after this a large part of the city burned down.
All the supporters of Saint John Chrysostom came under suspicion of arson, and they were summoned for interrogation. They summoned Saint Olympias to trial, rigorously interrogating her. They fined her a large sum of money for the crime of arson, despite her innocence and a lack of evidence against her. After this the saint left Constantinople and set out to Kyzikos (on the Sea of Marmara). But her enemies did not cease their persecution. In the year 405 they sentenced her to prison at Nicomedia, where the saint underwent much grief and deprivation. Saint John Chrysostom wrote to her from his exile, consoling her in her sorrow. In the year 409 Saint Olympias entered into eternal rest.

Saint Olympias appeared in a dream to the Bishop of Nicomedia and commanded that her body be placed in a wooden coffin and cast into the sea. “Wherever the waves carry the coffin, there let my body be buried,” said the saint. The coffin was brought by the waves to a place named Brokthoi near Constantinople. The inhabitants, informed of this by God, took the holy relics of Saint Olympias and placed them in the church of the holy Apostle Thomas.
Afterwards, during an invasion of enemies, the church was burned, but the relics were preserved. Under the Patriarch Sergius (610-638), they were transferred to Constantinople and put in the women’s monastery founded by Saint Olympias. Miracles and healings occurred from her relics. 
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